Looks still aren't everything for model Cameron Russell

In 2012, then 25-year-old supermodel (and Columbia grad, might we add) Cameron Russell gave the TEDx talk heard round the world: “Looks aren’t everything. Believe me, I’m a model.” In less than 10 minutes, Cameron eloquently pulled back the bright...

by Adam Fletcher
21 August 2014, 3:45am

Photography Theresa Keil and courtesy Cameron Russell

It's been almost two years since the TED talk and Cameron is still as much of a kick ass girl power icon as ever! We jumped at the chance to pick her brain about childhood, her magazine project Interrupt, and the power of social media platforms.

What was your childhood like? How did you balance high profile modelling jobs with growing up?
My childhood was great! I really love my family, I feel so lucky to have a mum, dad, sister and brother whose company I genuinely enjoy. I started modelling when I was 16 and basically lived two lives, one was a nerdy high school student, and one was a (still nerdy) model. I wrote a lot of my essays on planes.

Tell us about Interrupt - your magazine project.
At Interrupt we invest media resources (photographers, graphic designers, filmmakers, editors, etc) into storytellers misrepresented or marginalised by mainstream media. Each month we have a different editor-in-chief who decides where those resources should be going and what stories are important. We are re-launching with a new site in September where Browntourage and Lorde Inc will Interrupt Fashion Week! During the last 11 years as a (mostly) silent model, I spent lots of time thinking about how to value my own voice when everyone else valued my face. That's why building my ideal magazine, where I have spent lots of time thinking about and explaining why it's so important for each of us to lead and speak up, has felt so personal.

How does social media factor into what it means to be a girl today?
My body came of age on the runway. I shuffled through my first Calvin Klein show with a body that was still growing. I swung my hips while pop music blasted for Victoria's Secret. My breasts grew two sizes (well, zero to something) and I went from 5'6" to 5'10". This all happened in 'meatspace.'

But I grew up on the Internet. I could be many different identities, or even anonymous, absorbing and contributing to many different fields from political and economic spaces to fashion spaces, to the creative radical media spaces where internet things live, gif, bounce, and delight. Perhaps most importantly, I could experiment with inhabiting many radical identities and communities that I didn't have easy access to before. Twitter was the first place I started following and engaging with online feminism. It was where things that I didn't learn or didn't feel safe talking about at school, work, or home became fairly easily accessible to me. These things were (and are) life-changing.

Before I had a sexual identity of my own, I was a highly sexualized object. That wasn't really something I could talk about with my parents or 16-year-old girlfriends--least of all clients or coworkers. Through Twitter, Instagram, and more formal media outlets like Bitch Magazine where I'm now a board member, I became much more confident in my own voice, beliefs, and values. Even if the people around me in meatspace didn't share them.

I am so grateful for the women I connected with and the space they made for me as an awkward newcomer. Yes, I am a white cis-gendered woman with incredible privilege who has worked as a model for the last decade and it's likely that some people were more open and willing to make room for me. But nonetheless they taught me a powerful lesson: be open and make space for people. I try to recreate this experience for others as often as I can. I connect with people on Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr who are doing work I think is awesome. I feel a responsibility to Tweet and Instagram things that I believe in, especially if they can be a "gateway drug" to feminism or activism.

In "James is a girl," Jennifer Egan's profile of then 15-year-old model Jamie King for the New York Times, she writes "In the fashion world, models are always 'girls.'...Backstage at a show or at a shooting in a loft, 'girl' suggests, as it is meant to, someone more beautiful and less complicated than a woman." Do you agree?
I think a lot of modelling is 'complicated.' Being called a 'girl' is also a youthful descriptor, which is a positive in an industry where your value is tied to your youthfulness. I always prefer to use the word 'woman' because I think it is more respectful.

What would be an alternative way for luxury brands to promote their products, outside of the traditional pretty model campaigns and runways?
Much of high fashion makes advertising decisions that aren't particularly tied to economic outcomes. So I think it would be difficult to figure out the motives of luxury brands and go in a different direction. For anyone who's interested in reading more on this topic, check out Pricing Beauty by Ashley Mears where she argues, "Much of the couture side of the business since the 1960s has become a "loss leader," meaning couture loses money but generates the publicity and prestige around the brand."



Text Rory Satran
Photography Theresa Keil and courtesy Cameron Russell

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